The key to playing chicken…

…Is knowing when to blink. And the United Airlines flight attendant union appears to have just blinked. Faced with an involuntary furlough of nearly 700 flight attendants the union has apparently softened (or at least split on) its position on the “crossover” program which allows current employees of the legacy United part of the operation to work under the legacy Continental half of the company, a position the Union strongly and repeatedly opposed.

Playing chicken is fun in big tractors, too. Just ask Kevin Bacon.

In a letter to members the CAL AFA President explained the situation:

As you already know, approximately 700 of our sisters and brothers are subject to layoff on the s-UAL side of the house.  This reality has caused your CAL AFA significant angst.  This is not a situation which affords anyone the luxury of standing idly by.  Therefore, the CAL AFA MEC has unanimously agreed to a bridge employment agreement with the Company.  We cannot prevent the layoff of our s-UAL sisters and brothers but we can offer them employment on our side of the house.  The offer of employment is strictly voluntary and only open to those who are subject to layoff at s-UAL.  We have agreed that these individuals shall retain their company seniority for pay, vacation, and travel; and will have a bidding date of April 1, 2014 (they shall retain their recall rights under the terms and conditions of the s-UAL AFA agreement) – the same conditions that we have agreed to in past crossovers and bridge agreements.

There are, of course, some caveats to the crossover agreement which were not part of the prior negotiations. For example, the restriction to only those subject to layoffs as the s-UAL side of the operation was not previously part of the deal. Still, the agreement allows those who wish to continue working the opportunity to do so, albeit at a lower seniority ranking for purposes of bidding. And that lower seniority might mean that they FAs who do cross become based at a station different than where they are now. That could present some interesting commuting challenges.

It is also interesting to read the different tone of the two letters about the topic from United‘s SVP Employee Relations, P. Douglas McKeen. In a letter sent at the beginning of January to the s-UAL AFA SVP In-Flight Sam Risoli is impressively aggressive, almost confrontational. In the letter confirming details of this agreement SVP Employee Relations P. Douglas McKeen’s tone is decidedly more pleasant. Certainly part of that is because one is a negotiating message and the other is announcing an agreement. Still, it is an entertaining read.

Perhaps even more entertaining is that the s-UAL side of the AFA is pissed about this deal being struck. At least their management is.

We are outraged.

Mr. Risoli has again chosen to go directly to you and work with the representatives from the Continental subsidiary to circumvent your legal representative.  By this action, the company’s intentions are clear: an end-run around your United AFA leadership.

There’s more to the statement but it is pretty clear that the AFA factions haven’t figured out a common stance internally. Until that happens it seems unlikely that the union will be able to reasonably negotiate with management.

Overall my view is that fewer unemployed flight attendants is a good thing. And the mess with union integration really needs to be solved sooner than not. It sucks. Seems like the Union should start by getting their own ducks in a row first, though.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. The Company and the sUAL MEC have had a nasty relationship for as long as I’ve been following the industry. sUAL employees have never been happy and have always relied on their Union Reps to argue the company rather than logically and amicably meet mutual goals and resolutions. The sUAL MEC is just p!ssed that the sCAL MEC and the Company have a better relationship that makes sense for both the Union and the Company, where they don’t support cutting noses in spite of faces.

    Good for those sUAL furloughs who have an opportunity to keep their pay and other bennies except for seniority. That sucks, but it beats being out of a job. Anyone who rejects the sCAL offer either didn’t want to be employed as a flight attendant anymore for a variety of personal reasons, or is a moron.

    One thing to note, Seth, is that the letter to sUAL MEC is written by Sam Risoldi, while the new letter to sCAL MEC confirming the crossover deal was written by P. Douglas McKeen.

    1. Thanks for catching the different authors of the letters; too many SVPs in the room. 😉

      One response I’ve read so far is outrage at being put at the bottom of the seniority list, ignoring the part about still having a job and the same pay scale. Myopic doesn’t even begin to describe it…

      1. Yeah…really myopic. sCAL union is really doing the sUAL furloughs a favor with this offer. The furloughs win by getting a freakin’ job, the Company wins by not having to recruit/deal with applicants and basic training, and the sCAL union wins by getting more members. It’s wins across the board and no lost time (except to get certified to fly sCAL equipment if they aren’t already) for anyone.

  2. Wasn’t there an election and there was supposed to be one union representing all the flight attendants? I know they haven’t negotiated a joint contract yet, but do both former unions (or union factions) remain around until they reach that joint contract?

    It is pretty pathetic that they have been negotiating for over a year and haven’t been able to agree to a joint contract. I won’t claim that I even begin to understand the differences in the terms of the contracts nor the internal union politics, but it seems to me that it weakens the bargaining position of the flight attendants not to be able to take a unified stance, and the company will of course take advantage of that.

    I believe that the sCO contract was more favorable for the company, particularly as regards work rules and benefits. If there is a unified union, wouldn’t it behoove them to get to a contract instead of letting time drag on, and the sCO side get larger and larger?

    Anyway, unhappy employees are not a good thing for customers, but then again neither is a non-competitive contract. Seems like the company has the leverage and the union hasn’t figured out a viable negotiating position or is overplaying their hand.

    1. Yes, Carl, they are all AFA now. But they are still working on a joint contract so they continue to operate under the separate contracts they previously had. It makes for quite a mess.

      1. Seems like part of the mess for the union is having two different leaderships. Each leadership is looking out for half the members, and the leaderships are presumably competing for who will lead a combined union. Plus how can they negotiate a joint contract with such divergent interests. Truly a mess and likely a suboptimal outcome for everyone.

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